Public defender receives award

Meachum has served Juneau for 21 years

Posted: Monday, January 15, 2007

When Juneau public defender Robert Meachum looks back on his career, he could obsess on grisly crimes and brutality.

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Instead, he focuses on the successes.

"The cases I think about and remember are when a juvenile gets in trouble and works through it, puts it behind him or her and moves on," Meachum said. "I see them in the community, and they're smiling. They're able to put it behind them and learn."

Meachum, 51, has a new success to ponder. He recently received the 2006 David B. Snyder Award, recognizing excellence among Alaska's public defenders. Sitting at his desk last week in an office sprawling with paperwork and case files, Meachum described his reaction.

"I was surprised and humbled and grateful," he said.

Meachum has clocked in 21 years as a public defender in Juneau. He has represented hundreds of clients in cases varying from criminal delinquency and child neglect to involuntary commitment in mental hospitals. A Michigan native, he was drawn to Alaska in 1979 for an internship at a public defender's office in Anchorage. He started work in Juneau in 1981, and since has developed a reputation for decency and hard work.

He is a married father of four children, with one grandson.

Meachum is distinguished by his good sense and his experience, in the courtroom and outside it, said Juneau District Judge Larry Weeks.

"He cares about his clients and puts in additional efforts into caring for them and caring for their legal problems," Weeks said.

Before attending the Northeastern University School of Law in Boston in the late 1970s, Meachum was a cub reporter. He worked at the school newspaper for the University of Michigan and landed his first post-college job in 1977 at the Tallahassee Democrat in Florida.

"To a certain extent, the ink still flows through my veins," he said. "I was a news junky. I still am."

Bill Turque, a Washington Post reporter, befriended Meachum while the two rose through the ranks of The Michigan Daily. They became co-editors and also spent a summer together in 1976, interning for the Kansas City Star.

"He was really drawn to journalism because he thought it could better the world," Turque said in a phone interview. "He brought a strong sense of right and wrong and social justice to his work."

"I'm not surprised he went on to become a lawyer," Turque added. "He found in law what he could not find in journalism, in terms of being able to help people."

• Ken Lewis can be reached at

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